The number of monkeypox cases in non-endemic countries continues to rise, but health officials say the outbreak is containable and poses a low risk to the general public.
As of this week, over 1,300 cases of monkeypox have been detected in countries where the virus is not endemic. There have been 45 confirmed cases in the US so far, just two fewer than the 2003 outbreak.
The White House is currently holding doses of vaccines thought to be effective against the monkeypox virus while expanding testing capacity for the orthopoxvirus, the family of viruses that includes monkeypox.
The monkeypox virus has a very low mortality rate and no deaths have been reported in non-endemic countries so far this year. Infections typically last between two and four weeks, and a person is considered non-infectious once the characteristic lesions have fully healed.
Monkeypox is primarily transmitted through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, although it can occasionally be transmitted through respiratory droplets if sores develop in the mouth or throat of an infected person.
With the arrival of summer, more people will spend their time outdoors in large crowds. Health experts have so far said people shouldn’t change their plans because of monkeypox, but have advised caution.
Here are some simple ways to stay safe and limit the spread of monkeypox amid the current outbreak.
Check yourself and others for symptoms
As many have probably become accustomed to over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, you should screen yourself for symptoms of monkeypox before attending an event or meeting anyone.
Symptoms are usually flu-like and include fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and chills.
However, public health officials have noted that some cases appeared to have mild or no symptoms shortly after infection.
The most noticeable sign of monkeypox is the characteristic rash that forms on various parts of the body and on the face. The lesions go through several stages before finally becoming scabs. The scabs eventually fall off and the skin heals, at which point a person is considered non-infectious.
Most cases so far have been identified in men who have sex with men, and health officials have noted that many infected individuals have had rashes in the groin or anus. Since the anal area is difficult to see alone, use mirrors, cameras, or an understanding friend if you feel you may have contracted the virus but have not seen any lesions on any part of the body that are visible to you.
Before beginning a sexual encounter, you should also visually inspect your future partner’s skin for lesions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released photos showing what monkeypox lesions can look like.
Wash hands, wash clothes
Standard methods of cleaning and sanitation are still considered effective in limiting the spread of monkeypox.
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap or hand wash after being in public. Be sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, getting both under your fingernails and between your fingers. The CDC has released a handwashing video that can be viewed here.
Another common way of transmitting monkeypox is through an infected person’s clothing or bedding. If you are recovering from monkeypox or think you may be infected, washing your bedding and clothes with detergent in a regular washing machine with warm water should get rid of the virus.
Avoid high-risk situations
The CDC considers festivals and events where attendees are fully clothed to be safer for monkeypox transmission. However, people should also be aware of other forms of contact, such as kissing.
Confined spaces where little to no clothing is worn — such as saunas or raves — pose a higher risk of transmission. The initial monkeypox outbreak in Europe was speculatively linked to raves taking place in several countries.
Although rare, monkeypox can be spread through respiratory droplets, so events where participants are close together in an enclosed space should be avoided.
Talk to a healthcare provider about getting tested
The US health authorities have said they are working to expand testing capacity for the orthopoxvirus. If you think you’ve been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for monkeypox, see a doctor to get tested for orthopoxvirus.
According to Raj Panjabi, the White House executive director for global health security and biodefense, public health labs currently have the capacity to perform over a thousand tests a day.
“We are working to make testing by public health labs more convenient and to expand testing beyond public health labs by commercial partners. But testing can only be done when people with symptoms seek help,” Panjabi said during a news conference on Friday.
Because monkeypox is very rare in the United States, some healthcare providers may not be familiar with signs of the virus, so it’s important that you recognize possible symptoms and specifically request a monkeypox test if you think you may have contracted it.
Smallpox vaccines such as Jynneos and ACAM2000 are believed to be effective against monkeypox and have already been mobilized in states where infections have been identified. Smallpox drugs such as brincidofovir and tecovirimate can also be used to treat monkeypox, with recent studies showing their potential effectiveness against the virus.
Most people recover from an infection within two to four weeks.
Consider wearing a condom if you contract the virus
Monkeypox is spread through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids. However, health authorities are unsure whether the virus can be spread through vaginal fluids and semen.
While this possible route of transmission remains unclear, health authorities in the UK have recommended that people recovering from monkeypox wear a condom during sex for up to eight weeks after their infection has ended.
Any sexual contact, even with a condom, should be avoided if the infection is ongoing and there are still active lesions on the skin.
Although monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection, any prolonged skin-to-skin contact, such as during sex, can lead to infection.